The whole of the Toon Army may still be reeling from the loss of Andy Carroll (we'll have to cry into our big pile of cash), but the Magpies will still have a match tomorrow. They'll be headed to Craven Cottage for the return match against Fulham FC. The Magpies will surely be looking to improve upon the recent form of allowing teams back in the game in the last possible minutes, while Fulham will look to keep the magic going that saw them beat Tottenham 4-0 in their FA Cup tie. In the first half of the season I said that both of these teams would be scoring and it ended in a 0-0 draw. Let's see if I can't do a better job of it this time.
Fulham have been in good form lately with only one loss in their last six matches, but Newcastle haven't had such a bad time of it either (even when you consider the last two late giveaways). So, I think we're in for a good football match, which will be nice opposed to all this decidedly not football stuff going on.
Last time FFC were content on playing 10 men behind the ball and eventually forced the draw. I think that at home they'll play a more offensive minded game, and therefore leave us more opportunity to make things happen. If FFC hadn't been on their recent hot streak I wouldn't have had any major worries coming into this game, but since they seem to have sorted out some of their issues I have to say it looks to be pretty evenly matched.
Cheik Tiote will serve the third game of his suspension, and with Alan Smith, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Dan Gosling still out, midfield will have to draw on the reserves to fill out the bench. This is a worry only if someone goes down to injury, otherwise I feel we're pretty well matched in that regard.
For FFC Gael Kakuta is in on loan and will be available, but our cohort at Cottagers Confidential seems to thing that he doesn't improve the team all that much. Dickson Etuhu is doubtful but I don't know that that effects much of anything either.
The story of this game will be whether or not Fulham is able to score against our defense, which has been staunch of late, and now has a chip on it's shoulder from the two late giveaways. I think this tips the scales in our favor unless FFC figure decide early to go for a draw, which I doubt they will do in front of the home crowd.
Keys to Victory:
We need to score this time around, and make no excuses about how many men they put behind the ball. It's not only a key to winning this one game, but we need to score to show ourselves that even without Andy Carroll this team is still a force in the Premiership.
The defenders reacting properly to the disappointments of the last two weeks will go a long way in a game like this, in which the teams are closely matched. And for that matter the entire team's reaction to the way in which the transfer window closed is important as well.
Alan Pardew will be the real difference maker for the good guys. This will be his first real managerial test for Pards since he arrived on Tyneside. I'm not saying this is the toughest game he's managed, but couple the two weeks of late points lost with the loss of Andy Carroll and you have all the ingredients in place for a melt down. It's up to him to make sure that doesn't happen.
Dangers for Defeat:
If Newcastle aren't ready for the Fulham attack, it could be a long day for the Magpies. This Fulham side can score when the put their minds to it, so Newcastle had best be prepared for a much different game than they saw in the first half of the season.
The strikers have something to prove now more than ever. if they are unable to step up to the challenge then it won't matter how many clean sheets our defense can keep.
Prediction: NUFC 2-1 FFC